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Mitsu drops plans for supercharged TMR 380

Take it as red: TMR 380 may be still-born, but Mitsubishi still has big plans for the Ralliart brand in Australia.

Company boss considers second model line or exports to secure local manufacturing

10 Jul 2007

MITSUBISHI Motors Australia Ltd has abandoned plans to build its supercharged TMR 380 concept car, but remains hopeful for a long-term future for its embattled local manufacturing operation.

MMAL president Rob McEniry said this week that, despite sagging sales of the current model and shifting its emphasis to a wider model base, a second-generation 380 is still part of the company’s long-terms plans.

“Certainly it’s planned ahead that way,” Mr McEniry told GoAuto. “We’ll just see what the corporation wants to do.”

Mr McEniry concedes that the viability of the company’s Adelaide manufacturing plant depends on either the introduction of another model line or a major export deal – most likely to the Middle East.

However, with the Australian dollar running so strongly, the export option is not an attractive proposition at present and the economic outlook does not provide much hope.

“I don’t think (a second-generation 380) is dependant on exports,” Mr McEniry said. “At 85-plus cents in the dollar, I don’t think that export’s the answer.”

Mitsubishi is also understood to be looking at local production of the Outlander compact SUV, which is in short supply internationally. Peugeot and Citroen – who badge the Outlander as the 4007 and C-Crosser respectively – are calling on Japan for more supplies in response to strong demand for these vehicles in Europe.

Mr McEniry dismissed the possibility of a quick fillip, though, saying that the company’s Japanese production would be re-jigged over the imminent northern summer break to resolve the issue.

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“The plant’s actually capable of doing that (building an SUV), but I don’t think they’re going to rush into that,” Mr McEniry told GoAuto. “The car (380) has still got until 2010 or 2011 in its model cycle, and we’ve got plans for a mid-cycle upgrade next year. I think that, as they (head office) work through their replacement D segment car, they will come to their own deliberation on how they want to do that.

“It’s going to be a hard call, there’s no doubt about that. It’s not an easy segment to be playing in.”

Mr McEniry seems content for the moment to press on with the 380 – which can be built cheaply because the company wrote-off the entire development and engineering costs as part of its restructuring two years ago – before worrying too much about a 2012 replacement.

“Once you start pushing it too far out, it’s going to be harder and harder to keep it going and the more investment you’ll have to put into it,” he said.

“At the moment, though, we’ve really written off all the initial factory investment and the initial engineering investments, so we’re able to do it at a variable cost (no fixed costs). As long as we can keep the future investments on the platform, or on this car, at a reasonable level, then we can recover that on the lower volumes.”

Mr McEniry has consistently commented that the Ralliart “is an under-leveraged brand for Mitsubishi” and has been keen to push the performance arm in Australia, so the decision not to go ahead with the TMR 380 – which grabbed the headlines at the Sydney show last October – must have been a difficult one.

Mitsubishi had hoped to introduce the 230kW TMR 380 as a ‘halo’ model that would create a stronger presence for the struggling 380 range, but the company ultimately found that the engineering costs needed to meet Australian Design Rules made the high-performance model an uneconomic proposition.

“The TMR 380 will not happen – at least officially – as a volume model in the 380 range,” Mr McEniry announced, adding that Alan Heaphy’s Team Mitsubishi Ralliart (TMR) operation in Melbourne could still build cars to order.

“It was a great concept and the project was very close to my heart, so it’s torn a year or two off me in not being able to say we’re going ahead with it.

“Getting through the ADRs to keep honest to the concept has been a challenge and the retail price point as a result is, in our opinion, too steep at north of $55,000 and close to $60,000 in reality.”

Despite the decision, Mr McEniry said he would still be ordering a black TMR 380 from Heaphy for his personal use, though it will soon be fighting for space in his garage with the forthcoming Lancer Evo X.

The latest Evo will be launched early next year and will be followed soon after by a less wild Lancer Ralliart model. The turbocharged, four-wheel drive Lancer Ralliart will be a direct competitor for the controversial new Subaru Impreza WRX and will likely undercut its price (currently $40,440).

An overall decision on the future of Ralliart in Australia has still to be determined and has been delayed by about five months, with an announcement now unlikely until the Melbourne motor show in March.

Mr McEniry acknowledged that Prodrive (which runs Ford Performance Vehicles and is also involved with Toyota’s TRD operation) is one of the contenders to run Ralliart in Australia.

And despite a denial to GoAuto last month by Walkinshaw Performance director Chris Payne, Mr McEniry also indicated that his friend Tom Walkinshaw (who owns Holden Special Vehicles) was also a contender, saying that he “would probably be an obvious” candidate.

“The Ralliart name is bloody strong – much stronger than I think we give it credit for,” said Mr McEniry. “I think the Evo is going to do a job for us for a period anyway, because I think that will be a pretty schmick car. I think that will do a job while we get the other pegs in the ground to move forward from there.

“I’d love to be doing it all now, but there’s only so much you can do.”

Read more:

Ralliart on the move

Sydney show: Mitsu fires back with blown 380

The Road to Recovery podcast series

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